What to see in Siena – Il Duomo di Siena

Italy boasts an astounding number of spectacular churches filled with priceless art and intricate architectural features.  The Duomo di Siena, located in Piazza del Duomo, is no exception.  Considered to be ‘one of the most illustrious examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic cathedrals’, the Siena Cathedral was consecrated in 1179 and stands on the site where a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva once stood.

Seeing the inside of the Cathedral was one of the highlights of our visit.  It’s bright and busy; a dizzying array of dark green (almost black) and white striped marble columns, colorful frescoes, and glittering gilded ceilings.

Of particular interest are:

Nicola Pisano’s sculpted 13th century marble pulpit

Cappella del Voto

Cappella del Voto – Also called The Chigi Chapel, this alcove in the right transept of the cathedral houses the statues of Saint Jerome and Mary Magdalene by Bernini and the 13th century painting of Madonna del Voto, adorned with a crown of gold and gemstones.

The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist – Here you’ll see the statue of the saint by Donatello and 16th century frescoes painted by Pinturicchio.  The chapel is located in the left transept of the cathedral.

Piccolomini Library – Painted by Pinturricchio with the help of a young Raphael, the library contains vibrant 16th century frescoes and an intricately gilded ceiling.   Also on display is a collection of ‘illuminated’ codices or liturgical texts from the 15th century. The library, in the space that was once occupied by the old rectory, is located inside the cathedral, adjacent to the Chapel of Saint John the Baptist.

The Piccolomini Altar – Situated to the left of the Piccolomini Library entrance, the altar is decorated with statues of four saints (Peter, Paul, Pius and Augustine) sculpted by Michelangelo.

The Floor – While walking through the Duomo di Siena, don’t forget to look down, because in this place you won’t want to miss the impressive inlayed marble floor.  The detailed panels, which cover practically the entire church floor, were created between the 14th and 18th centuries using two techniques:  ‘graffito’ (a process for chiseling, drilling and filling the marble) and ‘marble intarsia’ (the inlaying of colored marble).  These floor panels are truly amazing works of craftsmanship.  Even Giorgio Vasari (known for his frescoes in Brunelleschi’s Dome and for designing the Vasari Corridor in Florence) considered them to be ‘the most beautiful…largest and most magnificent…that ever was made.’

The scenes and images depicted in the marble panels include:

The Sibyls – Ten panels in all created between 1482 and 1483, depicting the female prophets of antiquity, including the Erythraean Sibyl. 

The Wheel of Fortune (1372)

Slaughter of the Innocents (ca. 1481)

The She-Wolf of Siena the original of which dates to 1373 and is housed in Museo dell’Opera.

Ticket options for Il Duomo di Siena*

Regular Admission = 4.00€, includes Cathedral + Piccolomini Library

Special Admission = 7.00€, includes Cathedral (Uncovering Floor Period) + Piccolomini Library

Combo Ticket (Opa Si Pass)** = € 12,00, includes Cathedral + Piccolomini Library + New Cathedral Panorama Viewpoint + Crypt + Baptistery + Museum + Oratory of San Bernardino

Travel Tips:

A good portion of the marble floor is covered for much of the year.  If you’re interested in seeing it in its entirety, you’ll have to visit during the ‘Uncovering Floor Period’.  Be sure to check the official Opera della Metropolitana di Siena website for current opening times and prices, and note that a special admission price applies during this period.

*Online ticket purchases can be made via the Opera della Metropolitana di Siena website. However, when purchasing online, you must choose a date/time for your visit.  The online service gives you the option of printing your tickets at home, having them mailed to you, or picking them up at the ticket counter when you arrive.  Be aware that various fees apply when purchasing your tickets online, including a 1.00€ per ticket ‘online booking fee’.

**The Opa Si Pass combo ticket can offer great savings.  By choosing this option, we saved about 12.00€ per person.

Note:  During our visit we found it easy enough to purchase our combo tickets at the main ticket counter at the Duomo; the ticket line was short and fast moving, and we weren’t locked in to a set time for visiting the sites we wanted to see.  The combo ticket is valid for 3 days from date of purchase.

In our next post, we’ll visit the Baptistery, Crypt and more…

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